Why would you ever use a travel agent?

Angus Kidman 22 November 2016

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72% of us now book travel online, and frankly that's not high enough.

A recent survey of 500 Australians found that 80% of Australians plan their holidays with online research, and 72% of them book them online. That figure doesn't surprise me. What surprises me is that it isn't 100%. Who needs a travel agent when you've got a computer?

I can remember the first time I used a travel agent, to book a flight to Europe when I was still a teenager. Back in 1988, there were two choices: visit an agent or ring the airline direct. Owing to my utter lack of frequent flyer status, I didn't have an airline preference at that stage, so ringing up wasn't going to be an option.

I can also remember the last time I used a travel agent, in 2004. I needed an around-the-world flight and online booking systems couldn't quite cope with my requirements. But even then, I walked in with a full list of exactly which flights I wanted. I wasn't looking for advice; I was looking for access to a booking system. And these days, I doubt I'd need to do that either, because online booking is the norm even for those kinds of complex flights. It's not that I've had a bad experience with agents, but why bother visiting one when you can find out everything you need without leaving home?

Industry wisdom holds that the main revenue stream for agents these days is cruises, which can offer a broad range of choices and which (to some extent) attract an older crowd. Cruising is definitely a growth sector, with 41 ships cruising around Australia this summer.

But again, those are straightforward to book online, and it's much easier to compare pricing when you're not sitting in an agent's office. Indeed, it's only then that you might realise just how much you'll pay a day for the convenience of cruising.

Technology disrupts, but rarely totally destroys. I imagine there will always be niche markets for travel agents, but I can't imagine myself ending up in one at any point in the future. Can you?

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on finder.com.au.

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